How beliefs influence professional development

Katja Maass, from Pädagogische Hochschule Freiburg in Germany has written an interesting article about “How can teachers’ beliefs affect their professional development?” The article was recently published online in ZDM. In her article, Maass presents results from a sub-project in the international LEMA project. The qualitative study described in this article included interviews of six teachers who participated in a professional development course. The data were coded based on principles from Grounded Theory, and the author provides a nice description of the different stages in the coding process. The results are also presented in a nice and illustrative way, and her theoretical foundation includes a nice overview of research on beliefs. As part of her concluding discussion, Maass argues that the beliefs influence the implementation, and she also points to previous research which argues that beliefs are resistant to change. In other words, the challenge remains.

Here is the abstract of the article:

This paper describes a qualitative study that examines in more detail the question of how teachers’ beliefs may influence the intention to implement change as suggested by a professional development initiative. Several teachers in Germany took part in a professional development initiative for modelling. The course comprised five workshops spread over 2008. A part of our evaluation of the course involved interviewing six teachers after they had taken part. Teachers were interviewed about the impact the course had had on them, the opportunities and any related impediments they saw for modelling, and the way in which they typically taught. The interviews were evaluated using codes. Although the sample is very small, the cases allow for interesting insights, and for the hypotheses that teachers’ beliefs about effective teaching seem to have a major impact on whether or not they intend to change their classroom practice, as suggested by the professional development initiative, and on whether or not teachers perceive the context in which they are teaching (school head, parents, students, etc.) as supportive.

Teachers’ metacognitive and heuristic approaches to word problem solving

Fien Depaepe, Erik De Corte and Lieven Verschaffel have written an interesting article about Teachers’ metacognitive and heuristic approaches to word problem solving: analysis and impact on students’ beliefs and performance. The article was published online in ZDM last Friday. Here is the abstract of their article:

We conducted a 7-month video-based study in two sixth-grade classrooms focusing on teachers’ metacognitive and heuristic approaches to problem solving. All problem-solving lessons were analysed regarding the extent to which teachers implemented a metacognitive model and addressed a set of eight heuristics. We observed clear differences between both teachers’ instructional approaches. Besides, we examined teachers’ and students’ beliefs about the degree to which metacognitive and heuristic skills were addressed in their classrooms and observed that participants’ beliefs were overall in line with our observations of teachers’ instructional approaches. In addition, we investigated how students’ problem-solving skills developed as a result of teachers’ instructional approaches. A positive relationship between students’ spontaneous application of heuristics to solve non-routine word problems and teachers’ references to these skills in their problem-solving lessons was found. However, this increase in the application of heuristics did not result in students’ better performance on these non-routine word problems.

Teachers’ perceptions about the purpose of student teaching

Keith Leatham from Brigham Young University in Utah, U.S., is one of the scholars who have made important contribution to research of teachers’ beliefs in mathematics education research in the last couple of years. I very much like his proposed framework for viewing teachers’ beliefs as sensible systems (from his 2006 article in Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education). Now he has written a new article with focus on beliefs (or this time it is referred to as perceptions), and he has co-written this article with a colleague from Brigham Young University: Blake E. Peterson. Their article is entitled Secondary mathematics cooperating teachers’ perceptions of the purpose of student teaching, and it was published online in Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education last week. Here is their article abstract:

This article reports on the results of a survey of 45 secondary mathematics cooperating teachers’ perceptions of the primary purposes of student teaching and their roles in accomplishing those purposes. The most common purposes were interacting with an experienced, practising teacher, having a real classroom experience, and experiencing and learning about classroom management. The most common roles were providing the space for experience, modeling, facilitating reflection, and sharing knowledge. The findings provided insights into the cooperating teachers’ perceptions about both what should be learned through student teaching and how it should be learned. These findings paint a picture of cooperating teachers who do not see themselves as teacher educators—teachers of student teachers. Implications for mathematics teacher educators are discussed.

Teachers’ conceptions of creativity

David S. Bolden, Tony V. Harries and Douglas P. Newton have written an article entitled Pre-service primary teachers’ conceptions of creativity in mathematics. This article was recently published online in Educational Studies in Mathematics. The issues concerning creativity that are raised in this article are interesting. I also find it interesting to observe how the authors make use of concepts like “beliefs” and “conceptions”. As far as I can tell, they don’t make a distinction between these concepts, and they also talk about teachers “views” without making a clear distinction between this concept in relation to the two former. Although attempts have been made in the past by researchers to define and distinguish between these concepts, I think we still have a challenge here!

Here is the abstract of their article:

Teachers in the UK and elsewhere are now expected to foster creativity in young children (NACCCE, 1999; Ofsted, 2003; DfES, 2003; DfES/DCMS, 2006). Creativity, however, is more often associated with the arts than with mathematics. The aim of the study was to explore and document pre-service (in the UK, pre-service teachers are referred to as ‘trainee’ teachers) primary teachers’ conceptions of creativity in mathematics teaching in the UK. A questionnaire probed their conceptions early in their course, and these were supplemented with data from semi-structured interviews. Analysis of the responses indicated that pre-service teachers’ conceptions were narrow, predominantly associated with the use of resources and technology and bound up with the idea of ‘teaching creatively’ rather than ‘teaching for creativity’. Conceptions became less narrow as pre-service teachers were preparing to enter schools as newly qualified, but they still had difficulty in identifying ways of encouraging and assessing creativity in the classroom. This difficulty suggests that conceptions of creativity need to be addressed and developed directly during pre-service education if teachers are to meet the expectations of government as set out in the above documents.

Self-efficacy beliefs regarding mathematics and science teaching

Murat Bursal has written an article about Turkish preservice elementary teachers’ self-efficacy beliefs regarding mathematics and science teaching. This article was published online in International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education on Thursday. A key finding is that the preservice teachers in this study had “adequate” self-efficacy beliefs when they graduated. These findings are linked with a recent reform in Turkish teacher education. Here is the abstract of the article:

This study investigated Turkish preservice, elementary teachers’ personal mathematics teaching efficacy (PMTE), and science teaching efficacy (PSTE) beliefs at the end of their teacher education program. A majority of the participants believed they were well prepared to teach both elementary mathematics and science, but their PSTE scores were significantly lower than their PMTE scores. However, a significant correlation was found between the PMTE and PSTE scores. No significant gender effect on PMTE and PSTE scores was observed, but unlike the results from other countries, Turkish female preservice elementary teachers were found to have slightly higher PMTE and PSTE scores than their male peers. High school major area was found to be a significant predictor of participants’ PMTE and PSTE scores. Participants with mathematics/science high school majors were found to have significantly higher PMTE and PSTE scores than those with other high school majors.

Alignment, cohesion, and change

Dionne I. Cross has written an article called Alignment, cohesion, and change: Examining mathematics teachers’ belief structures and their influence on instructional practices. This article was recently published online in Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education. Here is the abstract of the article:

This collective case study reports on an investigation into the relationship between mathematics teachers’ beliefs and their classroom practices, namely, how they organized their classroom activities, interacted with their students, and assessed their students’ learning. Additionally, the study examined the pervasiveness of their beliefs in the face of efforts to incorporate reform-oriented classroom materials and instructional strategies. The participants were five high school teachers of ninth-grade algebra at different stages in their teaching career. The qualitative analysis of the data revealed that in general beliefs were very influential on the teachers’ daily pedagogical decisions and that their beliefs about the nature of mathematics served as a primary source of their beliefs about pedagogy and student learning. Findings from the analysis concur with previous studies in this area that reveal a clear relationship between these constructs. In addition, the results provide useful insights for the mathematics education community as it shows the diversity among the inservice teachers’ beliefs (presented as hypothesized belief models), the role and influence of beliefs about the nature of mathematics on the belief structure and how the teachers designed their instructional practices to reflect these beliefs. The article concludes with a discussion of implications of teacher education.

Emotionality in mathematics teacher education

Mark Boyland at Sheffield Hallam University (UK) has written an article about Engaging with issues of emotionality in mathematics teacher education for social justice. The article was recently published online in Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education. In the article, Boyland reports on a study where student teachers are encouraged to reflect on relationships and practices in the classroom that can promote social justice. In the article he relates to affective issues like emotions, beliefs and values, and he refers to some interesting literature on this. The interventions that were used in the study are referred to as “creative action methods”, and they were originally developed by psychotherapist Jacob Moreno. This is a very interesting approach to research on affective issues, and to me it is a new approach that I hadn’t heard of before.

Here is the abstract of Boyland’s article:

This article focuses on the relationship between social justice, emotionality and mathematics teaching in the context of the education of prospective teachers of mathematics. A relational approach to social justice calls for giving attention to enacting socially just relationships in mathematics classrooms. Emotionality and social justice in teaching mathematics variously intersect, interrelate or interweave. An intervention, using creative action methods, with a cohort of prospective teachers addressing these issues is described to illustrate the connection between emotionality and social justice in the context of mathematics teacher education. Creative action methods involve a variety of dramatic, interactive and experiential tools that can promote personal and group engagement and embodied reflection. The intervention aimed to engage the prospective teachers with some key issues for social justice in mathematics education through dialogue about the emotionality of teaching and learning mathematics. Some of the possibilities and limits of using such methods are considered.

Mathematical problem solving and students’ belief systems

María Luz Callejo and Antoni Vila have written an article that was published in Educational Studies in Mathematics last week. The article is entitled Approach to mathematical problem solving and students’ belief systems: two case studies. Most studies that focus on the role of beliefs in relation to problem solving are to some degree based on the works of Alan Schoenfeld, Günther Törner, Liewen Verschaffel, Erkki Pehkonen and several others. So does this. The theoretical part of the paper gives a nice overview of some of the most important earlier studies within this field. Personally, I would have included reference to some more critical perspectives, like Jeppe Skott, and when discussing belief systems, I also think the work of Keith Leatham provides an important contribution to the field. In their discussion, they consider inconsistencies between beliefs and actions, and in this connection, I think a reference to Leatham’s work and his proposed framework of viewing beliefs as sensible systems would have been worthwhile.

Still, I think it is an interesting article to read if you are interested in problem solving or research on beliefs. Here is the article abstract:

The goal of the study reported here is to gain a better understanding of the role of belief systems in the approach phase to mathematical problem solving. Two students of high academic performance were selected based on a previous exploratory study of 61 students 12–13 years old. In this study we identified different types of approaches to problems that determine the behavior of students in the problem-solving process. The research found two aspects that explain the students’ approaches to problem solving: (1) the presence of a dualistic belief system originating in the student’s school experience; and (2) motivation linked to beliefs regarding the difficulty of the task. Our results indicate that there is a complex relationship between students’ belief systems and approaches to problem solving, if we consider a wide variety of beliefs about the nature of mathematics and problem solving and motivational beliefs, but that it is not possible to establish relationships of causality between specific beliefs and problem-solving activity (or vice versa).

Epistemological beliefs

Dena L. Wheeler and Diane Montgomery have written an article about college students’ epistemological beliefs. The article that is entitled Community college students’ views on learning mathematics in terms of their epistemological beliefs: a Q method study was published online in Educational Studies in Mathematics on Tuesday. Here is the abstract of their article:

The purpose of this study was to explore the views of students enrolled at a small United States Midwestern community college toward learning mathematics, and to examine the relationship between student beliefs about mathematic learning and educational experiences with mathematics using Q methodology and open-ended response prompts. Schommer’s (Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 495–504, 1990) multidimensional theory of personal epistemology provided the structural framework for the development of 36 domain specific Q sort statements. Analysis of the data revealed three distinct but related views of learning mathematic which were labeled Active Learners, Skeptical Learners, and Confident Learners. Chi-square tests of independence revealed no significant differences based on gender. Additionally, there was no evidence for differences based on level of mathematics completed, age, or college hours accumulated. Student’s previous experiences in instructional environments, however, were closely associated with beliefs. Results are discussed in view of the implications for establishing learning environments and considerations in implementing Standards-based curricula in higher education.

Knowledge and beliefs

Much of my own research the last years has been related to knowledge and beliefs concerning mathematics, teaching and learning of mathematics. In the most recent issue of Instructional Science, Angela Boldrin and Lucia Mason have written an article that caught my attention: Distinguishing between knowledge and beliefs: students’ epistemic criteria for differentiating. Here is the abstract of this highly interesting article:

“I believe that he/she is telling the truth”, “I know about the solar system”: what epistemic criteria do students use to distinguish between knowledge and beliefs? If knowing and believing are conceptually distinguishable, do students of different grade levels use the same criteria to differentiate the two constructs? How do students understand the relationship between the two constructs? This study involved 219 students (116 girls and 103 boys); 114 were in 8th grade and 105 in 13th grade. Students had to (a) choose which of 5 graphic representations outlined better the relationship between the two constructs and to justify their choice; (b) rate a list of factual/validated, non-factual/non-validated and ambiguous statements as either knowledge or belief, and indicate for each statement their degree of truthfulness, acceptance and on which sources their views were based. Qualitative and quantitative analysis were performed. The data showed how students distinguish knowledge from belief conceptually and justify their understanding of the relationship between the two constructs. Although most students assigned a higher epistemic status to knowledge, school grade significantly differentiated the epistemic criteria used to distinguish the two constructs. The study indicates the educational importance of considering the notions of knowledge and belief that students bring into the learning situation.